News Story

Illegal Strike by Detroit Teachers Shuts Down 18 Schools

Lawbreakers may not suffer consequences for causing 12,000 students to miss school

Hundreds of Detroit public school teachers broke the law Thursday when they skipped school to protest Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcement in Lansing proposing an overhaul of the Detroit public school system. The action caused 18 Detroit public schools to close and more than 12,000 students to miss a day of classes.

The action is considered a strike, which is illegal for government employees in Michigan, according to Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

On the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ website, the union urged all DPS employees to go to Lansing April 30 and stated school employees would be using a personal business day while at the protest.

But Wright said it was not simply a day off for teachers.

“This was a strike,” Wright said. “The personal days claim is a ruse. This was a concerted activity and highly illegal.”

Here is how such actions are defined by the relevant law, the Public Employment Relations Act:

(j) "Strike" means the concerted failure to report for duty, the willful absence from one's position, the stoppage of work, or the abstinence in whole or in part from the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties of employment for the purpose of inducing, influencing, or coercing a change in employment conditions, compensation, or the rights, privileges, or obligations of employment.

The next paragraph of the statute makes clear that it does not prohibit a government employee from expressing a grievance or opinion as long as it "does not interfere with the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties of employment."

However, the law also establishes that enforcement of the law requires the public employer — in this case, DPS — to initiate proceedings with the state Michigan Employment Relations Commission. Since the process is extremely onerous, the practical effect is to make it unlikely that these teachers will suffer any consequences for closing their schools. A number of bills have been introduced in recent years to streamline the enforcement process, but none have been adopted into law.

Ivy Bailey, the executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, posted on the union’s website:

Gov. Snyder did not listen to the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children and the more than 100 political figures, education experts and community leaders who spent three months developing these initiatives. We need to support this plan.

The time is now. If we are to save the Detroit Public Schools, our livelihoods and our pensions, we MUST begin in Lansing.

Once again, the students, parents and teachers don't have any details about a plan that's going to affect us.

This Legislative Education Action Day is sponsored by AFT Michigan and allows us to make our voices heard. It will be a personal business day well used. We want to get 50 percent of DFT members to attend. This invitation is extended to all DPS employees. Further details and bus information to come.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he didn’t have the legal expertise to say for sure if the Detroit teachers participated in a strike.

“My gut feeling was this was a strike action,” Jones said. “There was absolutely no reason for the Detroit teachers to leave their duty and bus down to Lansing. If they want to protest, there are many ways to do it, but it’s not skipping work. That is not forgivable. You left 18 schools full of children who got no education today so you can come down and protest the governor who is trying to save your school system. There was absolutely no excuse for abandoning their schools and abandoning their duty. You don’t abandon your post. That’s what happened today and it is pretty shocking. Eighteen schools had no education for children.”

According to Detroit Public Schools, the 18 schools that closed Thursday were Pasteur, Brewer, JR King, Western, Mackenzie, Ron Brown, Bates, Wright, Nichols, Neinas, Dixon, Sampson, Frederick Douglass, DCP@NWHS, Durfee, Gompers, Emerson and Thirkell. School profile reports have 12,206 students attending those schools this year.

Officials with the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Manager, Snyder’s office and the Michigan Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.


See also:

The West Bloomfield Teacher 'Sick Out'

Illegal Teacher Strike Rumored Union's 'Job Action' Letter

Teachers Union Seeks to Hide Strike Talk in School Emails from Public Eyes